Employee engagement is one of those terms that can be hard to define. Are engaged employees all those who complete their assignments on time? Are engaged employees those who are always quick to chime in during team meetings? With so many different company cultures and industries out there, all with varying metrics to measure success it can be difficult to tell if your teams are truly engaged in the work they are doing or simply getting by each day. Ultimately, when it comes to taking a temperature check of the employee engagement levels at your own company, you’ll know it when you see it.

At Owl Labs, we know that the best way to know if our employees are engaged in their work is to ask them. When we were recognized by Inc. Best Workplaces this year we were thrilled to get a shout out for our company culture, but more notably we were proud to have been chosen based on the collective experience of our employees. 

So, how do you begin fostering an engaging workplace environment for your teams? Follow our lead and start with the people. When you put in the effort to connect with your employees and open a dialogue about how you can best support them, your employees will feel acknowledged and you’ll be on your way to creating an environment where everyone feels more engaged and yes— happier, too.

Why Employee Engagement Matters

Employee engagement has always been at the forefront of the minds of companies of all sizes and in all industries for a simple reason: engaged employees produce better work. And at times like these— where employees are more scattered and distanced from one another than ever before, every few minutes there is another pressing global news story to read about and everyone is wondering when we’ll wake up to a normal world again— keeping employees engaged has never been more important.

85% of employees around the world are not engaged or actively disengaged in their work. And with organizations in the top quartile of employee engagement seeing 21% higher profitability than organizations in the bottom, it’s clear that lack of engagement doesn’t just affect your company culture but it also impacts bottom line. Additionally, higher rates of employee engagement are shown to:

  • Reduce turnover + increase retention rates
  • Generate more innovative ideas
  • Boost customer + client satisfaction
  • Improve workplace productivity
  • Make for healthier employees

So, how do you combat disengaged employees in an effort to create a happier workforce? First, take the time to understand why your team members are less engaged in the work than usual. Employee engagement is rooted in honesty, transparency, and acknowledgment. You’re more likely to be proud of the work you’re doing when you’re proud of the company you’re doing the work for. 

Similarly, when employees spend all day producing work that goes unacknowledged by their peers or superiors, there is a greater chance that they will grow to become disengaged in the work they are doing. The first step toward complete employee engagement is turning your organization into a place where everyone feels proud to work and where all employees are acknowledged for their hard work.

With a stronger handle on company culture, leadership and people management teams can begin the work of creating workplace policies and strategies that foster a deeper, more meaningful engagement for all employees.

How to Engage Remote Employees

In a hybrid world, engagement initiatives need to extend to remote workers as well as those who work from the office every day. For companies that are fully remote or have a high degree of employees who work on flexible schedules, failing to include hybrid teams and remote workers in your engagement efforts could mean failing to engage with the majority of your team members. 

To engage remote employees, approach their engagement needs from an individual and team level. Start with surveying your workers to find out their current engagement levels and if there are any preferred ways that you can support them in order to boost those levels. Oftentimes, the most thoughtful way to engage with employees is also the simplest. When you start this process by directly asking your team members what you can do as an organization to help them engage deeper with their work you will not only find the answers you’re looking for, but you’re also communicating to your employees that their health and happiness is at the forefront of your mind.

Using your employee feedback as a jumping off point, you can then proceed with creating employee engagement initiatives that prioritize the wellbeing of your remote employees, like:

  • Allowing for flexible and hybrid schedules— 77% of full time workers say that being able to work from home would make them happier.
  • Revisit your company culture to ensure it takes your remote and hybrid workers into account, if they feel excluded from the central mission of your company then they will be less inclined to engage with their work.
  • Start at the top by inspiring your team leaders to connect deeper with their teams or enrolling them in leadership courses— 70% of the variance in employee engagement is due to the employee’s relationship with their manager.
  • Provide all employees with opportunities for growth, like holding regular one-on-one meetings to talk about their personal goals and the specific ways in which your company can help them reach those goals.
  • Show employees that you’re invested in their engagement by creating an education assistance program— 94% of employees say they would be more inclined to stay at a company longer if they felt the company was invested in their learning and professional development.
  • Encourage employees to connect with their work on a deeper level by showing them the direct results of their efforts so that they can clearly see how their individual contributions matter to the company.

How HR Teams Can Take the Initiative for Employee Engagement

For a full-fledged employee engagement makeover at your company, you’ll need the help of your HR team. Because it can take a long time for your human resources department to create engagement programs that resonate with all of your employees, regardless of where they work and how long they’ve been at your company, they’ll need your help (specifically, they’ll need the results of the engagement surveys mentioned earlier) to create sustainable company-wide engagement initiatives for your employees.

One of the most common engagement programs for hybrid companies is to create a shared goal that the entire workforce of your organization can work toward together, in order to foster a deeper connection between individual employees and your company. Choose a goal that resonates with your mission statement and that can be worked towards by in-person, remote and hybrid employees.

For example, if you are a company that prides yourself on how involved you are in your local community, create a volunteering goal such as completing a combined 1,000 hours of volunteer work at local organizations by the end of the year. Whenever an employee volunteers they can log their work into a shared program that illustrates the collective progress made and how far is left to go. To encourage participation, incentivise your employees by offering group rewards for those departments or teams that go above and beyond their share of the work.

When employees can see how their efforts directly work to make their community and your company a better place, they will have a more meaningful connection and appreciation for the work they are doing and boost their engagement level in the process.

Innovative Ways People are Doing Employee Engagement

There is no one surefire way to foster a more engaged environment at your company. What works for the organization down the street isn’t necessarily going to work for your company. Since one of the primary factors of employee engagement is the connection individuals have with the company as a whole, create programs and initiatives that can easily tie back into your company culture and are unique to your brand. And don’t be afraid to get innovative about how you engage with your employees. Employee engagement is an ongoing process, learn from the results of your previous initiatives to better hone your engagement efforts in the future.

Some creative ways to engage employees include:

  • Kick off Summer or Winter Fridays with team hybrid happy hours. Before cutting everyone loose to enjoy their weekend early, reserve the last half hour of each shortened Friday for your remote and hybrid teams to meet one last time for the week with a beverage of choice in their hand. For remote and hybrid teams composed of employees who have never met in person before, these communal wind down sessions are a great opportunity to come together in a more informal setting than a typical work meeting.
  • Use boxed events for hybrid and remote team bonding. Employee engagement is all about connection and one way to foster connection for distributed employees is to use boxed events to bring everyone together, while they are still physically apart. 
  • Create joint initiatives that get your team members outside and moving, so they can then share their experiences with their coworkers. Movement initiatives that get workers away from their desks and out into the fresh air are a great way for companies to show employees how much they value their health and wellness.

What comes first, employees feeling engaged in their work or employees being happy? In reality, employee engagement and employee happiness go hand in hand. One without the other makes for a lacking workplace and detached employees. 

If you’re looking for more ways to combat disengagement at your company, here are 6 Employee Engagement Tips for In-Person, Hybrid, and Remote Teams.

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